What makes a terrorist?

According to a report by MI5, it is not one factor in particular. The research, "Understanding Radicalisation and Violent Extremism in the UK," (no, I do not have the original report: this is based on media accounts here and here) is based on a collection of case studies of people known to be "involved in or closely associated with terrorism." It might be said that some of the most important findings are non-findings, in the sense that several popular stereotypes did not receive confirmation. To wit:
  • There is not a pattern of "illegal immigration," most of the people are nationals of the UK. Among those who are migrants, they are more likely to have come for study or economic reasons than for political reasons or as refugees.
  • To the degree that they are religious, they are relatively new to religion and not well versed in it.
  • They are no more likely than than any other part of the population to suffer from psychological disorders.
  • They are not unified by any particular national or ethnic origin.
  • While most are under the age of 30, this cannot be said to be typical of the group.
  • Among those over 30, they are more likely than not to have families.
  • No general claims can be made about whether they are likely to have completed formal education or not.
As meaningful as these findings may be as a counterpoint to stereotypes, they are probably not very surprising. Since the overwhelming majority of people in every demographic are not terrorists, it would not be reasonable to expect any particular demographic characteristics to be typical of terrorists. These are individuals who are largely self-selected and their activity involves a considerable degree of will.

Is there anything that can be said the people in the group studied? Perhaps a few things:
  • It is not sufficient to be exposed to extreme ideas or to be persuaded by them. People are recruited into groups and remain in them by means of personal contact.
  • People who have experienced marginalisation or racism or who have only held low-level jobs may be more receptive to recruitment than others.
  • The tolerance of terrorists for people with criminal records (here they refer to ordinary rather than "political" crime) may mean that people who are not accepted elsewhere in society may be accepted by terrorist groups.
  • The people recruiting members into terrorist networks are less likely to be the famous "radical clerics" as they are to be peers from the communities in which the recruits live.
  • The strongest force maintaining members in the group is a sense of belonging.
  • Perceptions of racism, anti-Muslim sterotypes in media, and other information that promotes a sense of victimhood strengthen recruitment.
Now, if we look at that list of factors above, it is easy to conclude that there are a lot more people who are influenced by several of those factors than there are terrorists. The MI5 report is sensible in pointing out that personal recruitment is essential.

There is of course another distinction to be made: between having extreme ideas and using violence to realise these ideas. Here (this is not a quotation from the report, which I have not seen, but from a summary of it by Alan Travis in the Guardian):
"The MI5 authors stress that the most pressing current threat is from Islamist extremist groups who justify the use of violence "in defence of Islam", but that there are also violent extremists involved in non-Islamist movements.

They say that they are concerned with those who use violence or actively support the use of violence and not those who simply hold politically extreme views."

If this is the way that thinking is developing among people in law enforcement about terrorism, it is a good sign. Concentrating attention on where the trouble might be rather than on where it is could have the effect of producing more terrorists.

Update: That last point is made more colourfully at SpyBlog (which also discusses the possible provenance of the document) -- "One Obvious Question not mentioned in the "Key Points" or in The Guardian's articles, is to what extent "radicalisation" is influenced by the cockups and mistakes whereby heavy handed or inept Police and Security Agency actions, which sweep up innocent or neutral or marginal terrorism supporters, and who refuse to promptly admit, publicly apologise and make generous financial compensation for their mistakes, contributes to the conversion of these people and their relatives, into more extreme supporters or into actual terrorists, exactly as used to happen in Northern Ireland."


Worthy of note

Yesterday Belgrade got a new mayor and a bunch of lovely patronage jobs were distributed. This was probably good news for the people receiving direct benefit from it, and may be good news for more people in the sense that that other party did not get the goodies that were handed out.

There was more good news for Belgrade today, which will please local lovers of the game Monopoly. The new international version of the game has come out, and it features Belgrade among the fancy dark green properties, right between Cape Town and Parigi. Now anyone who puts a hotel there, if it is a decent one, ought to do just fine.

Home to roost

A delegation from SPS went to Požarevac to visit the corpse of Slobodan Milošević. And a delegation from SRS went to prison to visit Milorad Ulemek. We hope they both had nice chats.

Fly the complacent skies

Word is BAA will be instructed to sell two of the three airports it operates in London. That's one too few.



You know, I'm not a fan of conspiracy theory (so ignore the text on the page I'm linking to if you choose). But in this picture it really does look like Milorad Čavić is ahead of Michael Phelps. Doesn't it? Nothing against either one of them.


Forecast: Knifey, with occasional showers of hysteria

Confronted with a massive wave of media coverage of knife crime, police initiated the "Tackling Knives Action Programme" (TKAP). Though you could say that when you are confronted with a knife that "tackling" it is a bad idea unless you are Yukio Mishima or Cassius, nonetheless police came forward with results: 55000 people searched, 2500 arrests made, 1600 knives found. Sounds impressive, eh wot? Until you read the numbers to indicate that of all the people searched there was no cause to arrest 95.45% of them, and that of those arrested each possessed, on average, less than two thirds of one knife. They could have achieved a better average by rifling through random kitchen drawers.

Meanwhile a person was convicted and labelled as the UK's "youngest terrorist" because when he was sixteen he was found to possess, erm, some pamphlets. And computer files. Expect the "youngest terrorist" to figure among the youngest people to complete a sentence as well.

Update: It looks like the "young terrorist" got twelve years for possessing reading material. Imagine the sentences that will be given to people who have actually done things.

Update2: My mistake (I blame BBC!), it was the person who actually recruited the group who got twelve years. Pamphlet boy will be sentenced in September. The charge on which he was convicted was one count of "making a record likely to be useful."

A new problem for the Karadžić case

Several lawyers are offering reasons why ICTY judge Alphonse Orie should not preside over the trial of Radovan Karadžić: he was one of the counsels for the defence in the case of Duško Tadić, a soldier who was (at least formally) under Karadžić's command, and was the presiding judge in the case of Momčilo Krajišnik, a Karadžić associate convicted (but acquitted of genocide) in 2006. The Krajišnik case is particularly important, not only because of overlapping details but also because of the likelihood that Karadžić may call Krajišnik as a witness, and because Krajišnik is very likely to seek Karadžić's testimony for his own appeal. Edina Bećirević has the details of the discussion.